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Jo Van Arkel describes a dog-shaped absence

Vaseline 1 month ago

My guest this week on Poetry from Daily Life is Jo Van Arkel, who lives in Springfield, Missouri. Professor Van Arkel is a Teaching Fellow in Writing, Department of Language and Literature, at Drury University. She began writing poems and stories as a child, inspired by the many books she had checked out in her local library. She enjoys writing both poetry and fiction and is currently working on a flash novella about life in the Ozark Mountains. She has a letterpress studio where she makes prints and etchings that sometimes illustrate her words. ~ David L. Harrison

Elegy for a dog

I share with you an elegy for my dog ​​Scruffers, a little black and tan Jack Russell mix that my family rescued from a shelter. Scruffers was a handsome fellow with a cheerful gait. He and I remained company together for over ten seasons.

An elegy is a very old poetic form that serves as both a lament and a celebration. It may seem strange to write an elegy for a dog, but as many writers and poets have discovered, pets in general and dogs in particular make wonderful muses. Scruffers, for example, taught me the art of walking slowly around the block, pausing to smell every scent and studying even the subtlest shift in the grass for signs that there might be a mole hidden just beneath the next soft heap of earth.

Dogs have a way of weaving themselves into our daily rhythms and rituals, and when they die, we feel death most acutely in their absence – they no longer run to the door to greet us or do a happy dance in the morning when we get up or follow us to lick up all the crumbs we drop during an afternoon snack.

I now have a new dog at my feet. Her name is Story and she has her own unique tendencies, including the habit of running large circles in the garden to express her joy when someone comes to visit. She makes me continually wonder about the joys and challenges of sharing life with an animal. But I haven’t forgotten the lessons Scruffers taught me, and I still miss him.


Dogs’ lives are too short.

Their only mistake really.

Agnes Sligh Turnbull

This is before us

put the dog down

so there is still time

to drive to the

park, top peeled back,

heaven for a roof.

It’s not fun

exactly, more like

vanity to say stay

forever with me – or

at least through another one

cycle of seasons.

We believe, the dog

and I, we can follow it

the smell of it

who have come before,

sniffing the roots

of what is lost.


Read more about Jo Van Arkel’s writing and art on her website: